Memphis’ Big Star has long been known as the killer band that put out three records in the first half of the 1970s that barely anyone heard. And yet somehow, those albums influenced almost every indie rocker with a taste for power-pop. The band was to reconvene and play at South by Southwest in 2010, but lead singer Alex Chilton died the night before they were to leave. So the Big Star set became an all-star tribute to Big Star and Alex Chilton. Two years later, and SXSW 2012 featured the debut of the documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, and North Carolina musician/producer Chris Stamey organized a diverse group to play the band’s third record, Third/Sister Lovers. Then he took the show on the road.
Last night at the 9:30 Club, D.C. got to see the latest incarnation. Stamey, along with original Big Star member Jody Stephens, Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Mitch Easter (Let’s Active), Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), Pat Sansone (Wilco), Django Haskins (The Old Ceremony), Brett Harris (The Rebelution), Skylar Gudasz (Ugly Girls), a string section, a horn section, and D.C.’s own John Davis (Title Tracks) made beautiful noise playing the Third/Sister Lovers tracks, as well as some favorites from #1 Record and Radio City. We also had the special treat of hearing Lesa Aldridge, Chilton’s muse for Third/Sister Lovers, take vocals for Third‘s cover of the Velvet Underground‘s “Femme Fatale.” It speaks to the band’s genius that music created more than 40 years ago sounds just as fresh today, and, thanks to Stamey, a whole new audience gets to enjoy it, too.